A Blueprint for Reinventing Education
Notes for a presentation to the Marin Philosophical Society, May 17, 2010 by Marty Nemko
Here are the blueprint's core components:
SuperTeachers. Nation's-best teachers would, in collaboration with an expert on online education, create highly immersive, interactive courses, to be available online. An inferior approach for improving the status quo: live teachers trained by master K-12 teachers rather than by professors who are rarely master K-12 teachers.
Criticality-selected curriculum. We should ensure that kids graduate with the knowledge needed by most before we try to teach them knowledge needed by few. Examples of proposed substitutions: risk/reward analysis would replace geometry, learning how to design experiments and critique research designs would replace algebra, practical one-on-one and group conflict prevention and resolution would replace detailed study of historical events, scientific method would replace chemical reaction analysis, ethical entrepreneurship would replace foreign-language study.
More big projects. Students are minimally motivated by assignments such as worksheets, book chapters, and doing the math problems 24-96, the evens--or the odds. Students are far more likely to be motivated to read, write, think, and collaborate when participating in a play to be performed for the entire school, to create a student newspaper, build a robot for an interschool competition, etc.
Ability-grouped classes. Logic and metaevaluations indicate that mixed-ability, nondifferentiated classes are a vivid manifestation of politics trumping pedagogy. For a balanced review of the metaanalyses, see: http://www.sharingsuccess.org/code/bv/abilitygrouping.pdf. But the logic, which must be given primacy when so many covariates exist, incontrovertibly favors the heavy use of ability-grouped classes.
A high-quality non-college-bound path for students who are not academically oriented. Contrary to the trend to one-size-fits-all, everyone-to-college education, there should be high-quality junior high school and high school paths for those not academically oriented. Such students are far more likely to derive personal and career success in a path preparing them for a good career straight out of high school (e.g., robotics repair) than being one of the 200,000 students each year who graduated in the bottom 40% of their high school class who go to so-called four-year colleges. Of those, 3/4 of those never graduate, even if given 8 1/2 years. Yesterday's New York Times reports similar findings.
Mentor-centric curriculum.Transformative change is most likely to occur one-on-one. Students, K-20, would be given far greater opportunities for peer and adult mentoring (e.g., a MentorMatch website.)
Use scaled-down high school campuses: only for extracurricular activities. Most academic work would be done at home, with interactivity provided by videoconferencing software, bulletin boards, and email exchanges with students and local tutors. Teachers' homes would be used for some instruction.
A College Report Card: All colleges would be required to prominently post on their website: four- and five-year graduation rates, and average freshman-to-senior growth in critical thinking, reading, mathematical reasoning, writing, public speaking, etc. These would be disaggregated by high school grades and SAT scores.
To make college affordable: a minimal campus. Courses would usually be taught online or in professors' homes. Major recreation facilities (e.g., gyms, pools) would be shared with community facilities. Administration would be minimal. No country-club-like lush-lawn-filled campuses. Substance not shrubs.
A separate track for teaching faculty, with a separate sub-track for instructors of pre-professional courses. All teaching faculty would be required to complete a teaching boot camp followed by peer observations, video reviews, and master-teacher evaluations. Teaching faculty would be hired and promoted on the quality of their teaching not their research.
How realistic is this blueprint? I believe that the relentlessly politically correct media and even the intelligensia fearing even unfounded charges of racism will ensure that politics will always trump pedagogy.
Would it make a big difference? I'm not sure. We have not seen evidence that any educational intervention, no matter how extensive or long-lasting, is a game-changer.